Keeping COVID-19 Away From Cancer

Knowing how to remain healthy with the coronavirus floating around is difficult for everyone but add in the complication of a cancer diagnosis and that confusion doubles.

Should you go to important office visits and chemotherapy or be wary of exposure and stay home? What about even going out at all—is it safe?

We asked Hematologist and Oncologist Dr. Fadi Hayek, of the Sue Ann Wortman Cancer Center, those questions (and a few more). He’s working every day to help our patients fight cancer while keeping them safe from the coronavirus.

How are you handling cancer treatment, knowing that your patients are extra vulnerable to COVID-19?

COVID-19 forced us to change our practices significantly, just like it did for a lot of other specialties. Our main concern is to maintain a balance between needing to continue life-saving treatments and, at the same time, not increasing our patients’ risks to the virus.

We are making decisions on a case-by-case basis, asking ourselves about the benefits to continuing treatment during this pandemic. So it depends on your age, your condition, the type of cancer you have, the stage it’s in, other treatments, and whether treatment can be delayed. The decision-making really is multifaceted.

When patients come to the cancer center, how are you handling that?

There are quite a few changes:

  • Before patients arrive, they are telling us about any possible coronavirus-like symptoms. If they report any—even if the symptoms are related to another condition—we’re putting them in special rooms where they’re isolated.
  • Patients and staff are wearing masks.
  • Appointment times are being staggered to keep patients separated.
  • Patients are waiting in their cars, rather than waiting rooms, to keep waiting rooms empty.

Should patients who have cancer or are recovering from cancer be concerned about coming into the center for treatment?

I think our hospital is doing a fantastic job keeping surfaces disinfected and sick people properly isolated. We have the right amounts of disinfectant, protective equipment, and most importantly, there is an adequate sense of seriousness by all of the staff as to how to deal with this disease.

While all of our patients are being protected from the disease, of course, there’s no complete protection, which is why we are recommending that patients who don’t really need to come shouldn’t come. But if the risk is managed well for someone who truly needs to come in, we think the benefits outweigh the risks.

What guidelines are you giving cancer patients for how to stay safe at home?

We’re educating them about how to avoid contact, in general, with others and asking them to report any fevers or other coronavirus-like symptoms to us.

A few important guidelines for cancer patients:

  • Isolate yourself. Go out as little as possible and stay six feet away from anyone who doesn’t live in your home.
  • Ask a friend or family member to bring your groceries to your home and leave them on your doorstep or order them online.
  • If you have to go out, wear a mask and gloves.
  • Avoid sharing eating utensils and drinking cups with others.
  • Sanitize surfaces before touching them—including delivery boxes and grocery carts.
  • Wash hands with soap and water (for 20 seconds each time) frequently.
  • Wash clothes that have been worn out of the house and the clothes of anyone who isn’t feeling well.
  • Sanitize high-touch surfaces in your home, including doorknobs and counters.

We are all being encouraged to go outside for fresh air and exercise. Should cancer patients do that, too?

Yes! Despite all of the isolation, I keep telling patients to try to create a new normal and think, “how can I get the most out of this” rather than be frustrated about what they might have done wrong in terms of protecting themselves or generally feeling bad. It may be difficult but try to go out when it’s sunny or catch up with old friends on a video call. Nowadays, we can use all the new technology that’s available to us.

It’s true, handling the coronavirus is more difficult when you’re a cancer patient. But following the guidelines above will help minimize its risks. And, as always, if you have any unanswered healthcare questions, please contact us at Hancock Health—we’re in this together!

Dr. Fadi Hayek is a hematologist and oncologist at the Sue Ann Wortman Cancer Center, 801 N. State Street, Greenfield. Contact him at 317-325-2273.